The age-old question of which came first - the chicken or the egg - may never be answered. But for the Suter Co., the chicken came first. Which may be why the Sycamore, Ill.-based food manufacturer was using an antiquated conveyor system from an old chicken processing line for its deviled egg line.
However, the chickens and the eggs weren't too compatible … as far as conveyors go.
Suter Co. manufactures refrigerated and canned salads, dips and spreads, snack and lunch kits and other products under its Sycamore Farms brand, as well as contract and private labels throughout North America.
About a year ago, the company was looking to improve production with an eye toward lean manufacturing. Department manager Matt Christ suspected the deviled egg line was inefficient. Its conveyor speed could not be varied, and it presented eggs at an uneven rate. Some employees on the line handled 10-12 eggs per minute, others might handle 16-20 eggs. The line had very unpredictable production numbers.
As cooked, shelled eggs come down the conveyor, employees need to slice the eggs and remove the yolks. The eggs whites are rinsed on the line for further processing while the egg yolks are mixed off line with ingredients to make customized fillings. The whites remain on the conveyor until packaged intact.
The end product is a deviled egg "kit" for foodservice and grocery customers: egg white halves plus a pouch of custom-mixed filling, with the customer providing "final assembly."
Gull Material Handling Co., a local material handling distributor, suggested Dorner Manufacturing Corp.'s 7400 Series sanitary conveyor. Part of Dorner's AquaPruf family of stainless steel conveyors, it's designed for sanitary applications where cleanliness and durability are musts.
The 7400 Series is made of stainless steel and has no fasteners in the food zone. To keep the conveyor clean while operating, jets underneath it on the return side shoot a water-and-cleaning agent mix onto the belt. Bearings are rated to withstand these constant rinses plus daily high-pressure washdowns. The conveyor can be disassembled by one person, without tools, in a matter of minutes for cleaning.
Christ says the 7400 Series conveyor worked "pretty much right out of the box." Previously, it took an average of 60 mins. from the time an egg box was opened to the time it was processed and packaged. With the 16-in.-wide, 28-ft.-long conveyor, that time dropped to only 8 minutes.
It delivers the same number of eggs to each employee and paces them through the process. "We can control how fast individual employees work. They no longer dictate the production levels for the day," says Cliff Chesser, plant manager.
"Now, when we set the line speed in the morning, at the end of the day we're within a case or two of our target," says Christ, who adds, "I figure a 40 percent increase in production." That means a substantial decrease in the cost per case.
The conveyor operates 10 hours a day, four days a week, and it has had no maintenance problems. "From both maintenance and efficiency standpoints, it works as well as we could have hoped for," says Christ. "It's one of the better investments we've made."
The experience led Suter to install a second Dorner 7400 Series for a different food product. That conveyor feeds empty cans from a staging area into a packaging line. This 6-in.-wide, 93-ft.-long conveyor leaves the staging area, hugging several walls as it elevates around obstacles to arrive at the packaging line.
"We designed in our heads how we wanted the can conveyor line to work," Chesser says, "and Dorner and Gull were able to take that vision and make it into reality. We had a very short window to get it up and running, and both companies stepped up and said they could do it."
Now in operation for a year, both conveyors are working great for the company, Chesser says.
For more information, call Dorner Manufacturing at 800-397-8664 or see www.dorner.com.